So I reckon I should eulogize the bankrupt and soon to be liquidated Tower Records a little… by which I mean, “use the demise of the record store chain to reflect on my own formative years…”
In the summer of 1985, right after I turned eighteen years old, I had to start looking for my first job. Okay, technically it was not my first job, but I’m not counting working for a dollar an hour at my step-father’s auto-body shop or three days at Pup ‘n’ Taco.
I did not want to get a job. I wanted to be a rock star / hot shot writer. (Twenty one years and not a thing has changed.)
I reluctantly canvassed Mission Viejo and El Toro. I put applications everywhere I thought I could work, and, out of desperation, more than a few places where I didn’t want to work. I interviewed at Tower Video (inside the Tower Records location at El Toro Road and Rockfield in El Toro) and also, while I was in that shopping center, talked to the manager of the Naugles fast-food joint across the parking lot.
I got the job at Naugles on the spot. I was given two brown polyester shirts and told I would start in a week.
Three days at Pup ‘n’ Taco when I was sixteen had turned me off of food service forever. I was not looking forward to this, but Pops was putting the pressure on, and so there it was.
The dreaded day came. I put on my heavy brown polyester Naugles shirt, had my hair net in my pocket, and was literally headed out the front door when the phone rang. The manager of Tower Video was on the line with a job offer.
I accepted. Hung up. Ripped the Naugles shirt off; threw away the hair net. Threw the shirts in the trash.
In the “many worlds” interpretation of quantum physics. especially as described by David Deutsch, it is said that every point of choice spawns two diverging realities. In other words, if you are at the fork in the road and go right, another universe is born wherein you turn left. The two realities co-exist, gradually becoming more and more dissimilar as more and more choices are made in each.
Somewhere, there is a me who left the house before the phone rang. Who never got the call. Who went to work at Naugles. I don’t know how that kid turned out, but I can confidently say this: I would not be the person I am now if I hadn’t worked at Tower Records.
A few times now, in this post, I’ve started writing event chains that stem from my being at Tower those eighteen months. I’ve deleted them, because it’s all just too complex. I could try a mind map, maybe? Some other time.
Let’s just say being at Tower literally changed my life.
Being at Tower led to the most impactful, influential relationships of my life… and those people introduced me to still more. At Tower, I met the first real love of my life, who got me a job years later where I met a woman who would introduce me to my first wife. Living in Long Beach with my first wife led to my meeting the second real love of my life, and years later, that woman would help me realize I was capable of love when my heart was as tattered and confused as it had ever been.
Being at Tower exposed me to life. Sure, I would have lived life if I’d taken that job at Naugles, but would making burritos and burgers have shown me the wider world of music, art, literature, film, culture..?
Not so much.
Some of the totems of my life — the DIY ethic, service leadership, skepticism, a love of eclectic music, film, and literature, acceptance of and respect for different ways of life, cultures, and orientations — can ultimately be traced to my time at Tower, the people, places, and things introduced to me there, or as a result of being there.
I don’t want to try to imagine how that alternate-universe Matt Selznick turned out. There are too many branches on the tree; too many possibilities on possibilities. I wish him well, but I don’t think I would trade lives with him.
So. Farewell, Tower, and thanks for opening the door into my adulthood. Our time together was brief, but I owe you much.
postscript: While researching links for this post, I discovered that my Tower moved to a different, nearby location. Given that all the stores are closing, I don’t know how long that link will be any good.
What’s sad is, listed among the store’s “Panel of Experts” is “Charlie ? Classical / Opera Expert.” Charlie was the classical expert when I worked there. One day I will tell you the story of how a five-year relationship was started at a party at Charlie’s house.
I’m sad that Charlie’s going to lose the job he’s had for the last two decades. I’m sad that three thousand other people will soon be out of work, sure. But I feel for Charlie.
NIce! Great memories of that Tower. From 1985-88 I worked at Leo’s Stereo next door and often played hookey at Tower. I’m sure I bought some CD’s from you. Did you know any of the Leo’s crew? Ofer Trudler, Charlie Brown, JP, Jeff the installer?
Matthew Wayne Selznick
Hi Paul — thanks for commenting! I didn’t really go into Leo’s Stereo back then… I tended to go to the little musical instrument store and… if I’m remembering correctly, wasn’t Crown Books in the same center? Memory begins to fade. If I was at that center 1985 ~ 1986, it was to go to work.
Sadly, it’s unlikely you bought CDs from me. I worked in the video department… and when I worked at Tower, we still sold mostly records! I have a vague recollection of CDs being added to the inventory in ’86, toward the end of my time there.
LOL! I was just thinking of Pup n’Taco the other day and trying to figure out if that was naugles turned del taco or just del taco. or none. miss ya. i hope you’re coming down for scott siglers book signing and pub crawl on march 15th. book soup in w. hwood at 5pm then red rock bar & eatery after.
I’m going to make the attempt to be there!